Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the newest entry in one of gaming’s most beloved franchises, is certainly one of the year’s best titles – one that makes an earnest effort at truly capturing a sense of adventure, while weaving a narrative that despite being far from perfect, builds upon the thrilling sensibilities of a pirate’s life.
ACIV first made waves upon Ubisoft’s initial announcement of the game, for the seemingly different direction the title was shaping up to take. After the mild disappointment many gamers felt after Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft’s decision to take their beloved franchise to the High Seas was a topic on the tip of many video game fans’ tongue.
The decision to move Assassin’s Creed IV in a different direction is a gambit that has paid off in spades for Ubisoft. Assassins’ Creed IV: Black Flag has solidified its place as the pinnacle of the series’ handful of releases.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag places players into the leather boots of the infamous privateer Edward Kenway, a man who took to the high seas in pursuit of gold and a life of pleasure. Kenway’s travels have taken him to the West Indies and surrounding islands, thrown into a life of adventure, plundering and the high-stakes life of a pirate.
Kenway, as a protagonist, is undoubtedly the most interesting the franchise has ever seen. Characterized by his brash arrogance and lust for gold, Edward Kenway balances between being occasionally unlikable and realistically determined; which makes for a flawed, yet wholly believable main character.
Kenway’s story begins during a terrific storm which leaves him washed ashore on a lush island with a man instantly recognizable as a member of the franchises’ iconic Assassin’s. Both men, injured and beat from the storm and subsequent wreck are determined to survive the ordeal. The first indicator of the type of man Kenway is comes moments after the game’s opening, as the injured Assassin pleads to him for aid in travelling to an important meeting in Havana. Kenway and the man exchange words and threats, eventually leading to a chase sequence and Kenway donning the man’s Assassin wardrobe; leaving him dead on the shore and Kenway donning a new persona at the hope of finding riches in Havana.
This instance not only sets the plot in motion, but also illustrates the type of man that Edward Kenway is. Upon seeing an opportunity, Kenway is going to take it, no matter what the cost to him or those that are around him.
Assassin’s Creed IV follows the tale of Kenway and other iconic pirates as they attempt to create a pirate utopia – a land where men can rule themselves, free from the domineering hands of the British and Spanish colonial rulers. Throughout his journey, Kenway uncovers a plot that ties the game directly to the previous entries of the series involving the long-waged war between the Assassin’s and the Templar as they vie for control of a location known as the Observatory – a legendary building that contains the secret to knowing the every action of every man on the face of the planet.
As Assassin’s Creed IV progresses, numerous interesting characters are introduced – both based in historical accuracy as well as colorful and diverse works of fiction. This has long been a staple of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and ACIV continues the tradition in a meaningful way with some of the most memorable characters yet.
Blackbeard, the legendary pirate of Nassau, is perhaps the most interest character not only in Assassin’s Creed IV, but also gaming this year. The jaded pirate has seen more than forty years on the earth – making him a veritable relic by piracy’s standards and truly understands how to make men cower under his will. Blackbeard has evolved past using violence as his means to achieving fortune, instead opting to instill fear into his foes, making him instantly recognizable as a terrifying, yet deeply sympathetic man – making every scene involving the pirate enjoyable.
Assassin’s Creed IV suffers occasionally in the narrative department by assuming a little too much can be inferred by the player. Too often, the game’s pacing jumps from steady seas to exceptionally choppy waters – causing for confusion. While in theory, these jumps in pacing can be explained away by the framework of Assassin’s Creed’s Animus memory combing, all too often Assassin’s Creed IV’s plot will leave players scratching their heads, wondering why certain actions are taking place.
These pacing issues persist throughout the game’s story – and occasionally transcend the narrative all the way down to the game’s cast of supporting characters. Similar to jumps in pacing, many characters are introduced, built up to seem to have importance, and then simply disappear from the game. While this, as well as the narrative issues, is only a minor inconvenience, they can truly distract from the game as a whole.
While on land, Assassin’s Creed IV suffers from pacing and character issues, on the water is where the game truly shines. Kenway’s ship, the Jackdaw, is the player’s home on the High Seas and the means through which the game’s expansive world is explored. The Jackdaw and its crew are an extension of Kenway’s whims and allow him to traverse the seas to advance the plot, explore islands, and even go for a bit of whaling.
Not only does the Jackdaw serve as a means in which to explore the game’s world, but the ship is also a veritable tool when it comes to combat. The ship combat featured in the game is fully fleshed out – the seas are full of enemy ships of varying type that can be attacked and boarded to the player’s hearts content.
Navigating on the Jackdaw controls better than one would expect, as the ship travels at various speeds and is surprisingly agile when you need it be. The seas of the West Indies are absolutely littered with diversions for Kenway and his crew to discover, making the long travelling distances between story missions more bearable.
One of the best aspects of Assassin’s Creed IV is the sheer amount of content found within the game. Aside from the fifteen plus hour main story, each location on the game’s huge map has tons to do. From finding all of the synchronization points, to carrying out various Assassination contracts, bar fights, and uncovering buried treasure, Assassin’s Creed IV is a completionists dream come true. Finding every collectable and location, conquering forts, and ransacking ships will take dozens upon dozens of hours.
Assassin’s Creed IV does suffer in a few areas, detracting from a stellar video game experience. During many of the game’s missions, pathing can become an issue, especially when forced stealth is mandatory. While the game has more than enough in terms of hiding spaces for Kenway, all too often one guard will be alerted only for fifteen more to suddenly bum rush Kenway, causing for a failed missions. On the other hand, replaying the missions the exact same way can end up with the exact opposite effect, with guards seemingly ignorant to their felled companions. The lukewarm AI leaves a lot to be desired, making missions – especially ones in which Kenway must tail characters – frustrating to the point of wishing these sections could be skipped.
Another issue in Assassin’s Creed IV is on that has long been a problem in the franchise. Kenway controls exceptionally well most of the time, navigating across the game’s varied locations like a hardened explorer. Sometimes, however, the game’s free-running system bugs out, causing Kenway to continually run up a wall, fall down, and repeat his actions. This is largely due to the free run button not being as responsive as it needs to be when coming in contact with a climbable surface. This inconvenience only last a handful of seconds, but can be unbelievably frustrating when players are being chased.
All in all, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is great game. The setting and characters work wonders for creating an experience that is certainly memorable and Edward Kenway is easily the franchise’s most interesting protagonist. Sailing the Jackdaw is a treat, and Assassin’s Creed IV – even on current-gen hardware is visually gorgeous. While some holes can be found in the narrative and AI systems, they are far from game ruining issues, making Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag a near air tight experience that any fan of pirates need to play.
[schema type=”review” name=”Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PS3) | Review Summary” description=”The Awesome: New, pirate themed direction is well realized, Massive world map, Tons to do, Relatively lengthy story. The Not So Awesome: AI pathing issues, Pacing and characterization often lack” rev_name=”Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PS3)” rev_body=”ACIV is undoubtedly the biggest and best entry in the long-running franchise that takes to the High Seas running and never lets up. Thanks to the game’s lengthy story and diverse game world, there is never a dull moment in ACIV. Those who can look past a few hiccups here and there are in for an interesting and enjoyably video game experience” author=”Ray Porreca” pubdate=”2013-11-05″ user_review=”8.5″ min_review=”0″ max_review=”10″ ]
*The Author purchased a copy of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on the PlayStation 3 for the purpose of reviewing the title.
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